Rand Paul has received quite a bit of attention due to his comments on the Civil Rights Act – parts of which he disagrees with – and also, I think, due to his fumbling explanation of his position.  He’s just not doing a good job of saying what he thinks. I disagree with his position, but I also think the attention he’s receiving for it is out of focus.

When I first heard about this, I’d been out of touch with the news for a couple of days.  I don’t really follow Rand Paul’s doings, much less his political career as a whole, but I do find pretty much anything about the civil rights movement interesting.  I spotted something on Huffington Post – a headline, a photo – which I didn’t follow up on.  Then something about an NPR interview on Wednesday.  Then a mention of his interview with Rachel Maddow in a blog, probably Washington Monthly’s Political Animal.  Then a thread on a discussion board, and finally last night (Friday), Maddow’s show opened with a follow-up piece on their interview with Paul.

Okay, hold on, back the truck up!

I love the interwebs.  I backed the truck up by going to Maddow’s onine link to the interview with Paul on Thursday, a long and tortured non-discussion, mainly because Paul danced around Maddow’s questions.  Rachel can be like a dog on a bone when she wants to be.  She wouldn’t let go, Rand Paul stumbled around, and it was 15 minutes of weirdness.  Warning:  the link (in the photo) below is to a 19 minute video, but I have to say that I didn’t realize how much time had passed until I glanced down at the little progress meter towards the end of the segment.  Time flies when you’re having… fun…


But as much as Paul danced around, I think I heard his point, and to be frank, I don’t understand why he didn’t just say it.  I disagree with it, but if that’s what the man thinks, he should just say it: No government intervention.  Period. If the free market takes the nation to hell in a hand basket, so be it.

Paul believes (or rather, he states; I don’t know the guy) that he abhors racial discrimination, segregation and oppression, and believes it appropriate to regulate it in government.  He stated he wouldn’t patronize a business which practiced, for example, lunch-counter discrimination.  Paul noted that any assault by the business owner or employees on the protesters would in itself be against the law – he implied, but didn’t say that this is the law that should have been enforced at the time.  However, that would have been a little impractical, as the police were on the side of the businesses.

Ahhhh… details, details, details

What I believe Rand Paul to have been saying is that the free market should take care of itself, and that bad behavior will eventually root itself out and magically disappear.  No matter that the arc of history is against Paul’s analysis – it truly does seem to take a push to get society to budge on discrimination against groups of people within it – but Paul is so against government pressure for businesses to behave as responsible members of society, that he’d rather see the market act in cruel and dangerous ways – everything from social oppression, the focus of the Civil Rights movement, to the financial collapse of our economy.

It isn’t hard to pick apart Paul’s argument, simply by extrapolating his view of a complete hands-off structure to the government-market relationship.  Ezra Klein pointed out the weird implications:

For instance: Can the federal government set the private sector’s minimum wage? Can it tell private businesses not to hire illegal immigrants? Can it tell oil companies what safety systems to build into an offshore drilling platform? Can it tell toy companies to test for lead? Can it tell liquor stores not to sell to minors? These are the sort of questions that Paul needs to be asked now, because the issue is not "area politician believes kooky but harmless thing." It’s "area politician espouses extremist philosophy on issue he will be voting on constantly."

It’s all well and good to take some kind of strong philosophical stand on a topic, be it free market or anything else.  The question is, would Paul’s attitude foster a society we’d want to live in?

I wouldn’t.